Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler Banner Graphic
Caveat lector

HOW ELECTION 2K GOT DECIDED! Major scribes borked Gore in New Hampshire. Once again, other scribes didn’t tell:


UNMENTIONED AGAIN: By the time of the New Hampshire primary, the press corps’ remarkable borking of Gore had reached a state of full fury. In the aftermath of Gore’s defeat of Bradley, Josh Marshall offered a lengthy assessment of the Granite State fight. His piece appeared in the February 28 American Prospect:

MARSHALL (2/28/00): Since late last fall, Gore has repeatedly charged that Bradley would abolish Medicaid without providing sufficient funds for current Medicaid recipients to purchase coverage under Bradley’s plan. Gore’s charge is so effective because it’s true. Rather than offering specific refutation of Gore’s charge, Bradley’s top staffers take umbrage at the thought that Bill Bradley would ever leave Medicaid patients in the lurch. Bradley and his advisers seem to be asking for a pass on the details, a special pleading for their man’s big ideas.
Gore’s critique did seem to have merit. How accurate did his claims seem to be? On November 5, 1999, Newsday’s Ken Fireman reported a remarkable interview with “Bradley’s own chief health-care adviser, Margy Heldring.” The nugget: “Heldring acknowledged in an interview with Newsday that the campaign’s cost estimate of $55 billion to $65 billion a year is based on an assumption about the price of insurance that probably would prove too low when the plan was actually implemented,” Fireman reported. Heldring had discussed the subsidies Bradley would use in place of Medicaid. “[S]he acknowledges that the subsidies will fall short next year and even shorter in 2001, the earliest the plan could take effect if Bradley is elected and persuades Congress to approve it.” According to Fireman, Heldring said “that the gap between the subsidy and the actual cost of coverage would eventually require either a higher subsidy—and thus a higher overall cost for the program—or an acceptance of the fact that significantly fewer uninsured people would obtain coverage. She said the campaign has not done quantitative estimates for either of those options.”

In short, early on in the health care debate, Bradley’s leading health adviser agreed with the substance of Gore’s primary charge. And Heldring wasn’t the only Bradley adviser who acknowledged that Gore’s complaints might be valid. On November 11, the New York Times’ Bob Herbert quoted David Cutler, “professor of economics at Harvard and a health care adviser to the Bradley campaign.” According to Herbert, Cutler said that “he expected the caps to be raised, that the…vouchers to be given to poor people would be increased to better reflect the market.” This, of course, implied the accuracy of Gore’s critique—that Bradley’s plan would cost more than he said. And on November 19, Jill Zuckman of the Boston Globe quoted John McDonough, “a former state representative from Boston who teaches health care policy at Brandeis University and is supporting Bradley for president.” Said McDonough: “It appears that some significant portions of the Bradley plan have not been completely thought through.”

In short, it seemed fairly clear, from early on, that Gore’s critique had merit. But by now, the Washington press corps was pathologically invested in making Al Gore a Big Liar. And so, over the course of the next three months, major pundits kept insisting that Gore was lying about Bradley’s plan. Predictably, Heldring’s remarkable Newsday interview found its way down the memory hole; a NEXIS search reveals no instance in which her interview was cited by a reporter or pundit. The result? In the closing weeks of the Granite State race, major pundits asserted, again and again, that Gore was lying about Bradley’s plan. David Broder was especially demagogic in two nasty columns which slandered Gore’s character. Richard Cohen and Walter Shapiro—aggressively playing it dumb in their own health care “arguments”—didn’t trail too far behind.

So there’s good news and bad news about Marshall’s report. The good news: Marshall reported what seems to be true, that Gore’s critique was correct on the merits. (By the end of New Hampshire, a number of scribes had begun to acknowledge that Gore’s critique had been right. Most were now content to pretend that Gore was lying about abortion.) But again, Marshall said nothing in his piece about the battering Gore had received in the press. To be sure, he had no obligation to discuss the corps’ oddball conduct. But once again, the press corps’ remarkable borking of Gore went unchallenged, unacknowledged, unexamined, unremarked. Why do major pundits sometimes behave demagogically? Because they know that no one—no one—will ever comment. We do not offer this as a criticism of Marshall. But once again, the borking of Gore was allowed to stand without Word the First of complaint.

What was happening in New Hampshire? As Roger Simon had colorfully said back in June, the press corps was putting Gore “through the hoops” (see THE DAILY HOWLER 8/5/02) In our view, Democrats deserve to know the truth about how the last election was decided. In particular, they deserve to know that this election was not decided because “people just didn’t warm to Gore.”

HOW ABSURD WAS IT? The crowning absurdity may have come from John Judis in the January 24, 2000 New Republic. Plainly, Judis agreed with the things Gore had said. When he offered his summary of the health care debate, he found Bradley’s plan badly wanting:

JUDIS: Bradley’s plan would replace Medicaid, but it doesn’t appear to offer comparable benefits. It also seems to offer employers an incentive to stop insuring their employees. And, as quickly became apparent, it would cost almost double what Bradley claimed—eating up almost the entire budget surplus and making it impossible...for Bradley to offer any other big initiatives. Bradley’s staff warned him about the program’s projected costs, but he didn’t listen. He went ahead with his “big idea.” Gore immediately went on the attack, and Bradley’s replies verged on incomprehensible.
Clearly, Judis thought Gore was right on the merits; indeed, he baldly disparaged Bradley’s performance. According to Judis, Bradley “didn’t listen” when warned about his plan’s defects, and his subsequent replies to Gore “verged on incomprehensible.” (For the record, Bradley’s replies also verged on outright dissembling.) But incredibly, even as he painted a picture of Bradley’s misfeasance, it was Gore whose character Judis disparaged. Was Gore praised for noting the problems in Bradley’s plan? No, Judis went on to criticize Gore’s “brutal assault” on Bradley, saying—in a world-class left-handed compliment—that “his ruthless new strategy has worked” with the voters. The press corps’ war on Gore had reached a very strange state indeed. Even here, when Gore was judged to be right on the merits, he was described as “brutal” and “ruthless” for stating them. Meanwhile, Judis didn’t say a word about Bradley’s conduct, although Bradley had called Gore a liar for months, making claims about his plan which Judis now said were inaccurate.

Of course, it was a transgression against all press corps etiquette to suggest that Bradley might be misbehaving. A comical moment occurred on December 19, 1999, when Gore and Bradley locked horns on Meet the Press. By this time, Bradley was openly calling Gore a liar. Tim Russert seemed eager to air the charge. He opened with a softball for Bill:

RUSSERT: Senator Bradley, let me start with you. Health care. You have been on the receiving end of Vice President Gore’s attacks over the last few weeks, questioning your plan, how to pay for it. Your campaign in New Hampshire responded with a flyer—I’ll put it on the screen—which talked about the disease of Gore-itis. “The symptoms: uncontrollable lying. The medication: truth serum. The patient: Vice President Al Gore.” Specifically, what has Al Gore said about your health-care plan that is a distortion or a lie?
There was no loaded language in that balanced question about the vice president’s ceaseless “attacks.” And surely, the gods on Olympus rocked with laughter at Bradley’s surprising reply:
BRADLEY: I do think that there have been some misrepresentations, one of which relates to the total cost of the program. The program will cost between $55 billion and $65 billion a year. I think that is the most significant change in—distortion.
Comical, isn’t it? Six weeks earlier, Heldring acknowledged that Bradley’s plan was going to cost more than advertised. But now, Bradley told Russert that this very claim was Gore’s “most significant distortion!” Russert’s reaction? He didn’t mention Heldring or Cutler, or other experts who agreed with Gore’s claim. Nor did he ever ask Gore to respond. By now, the corps’ great theme was AL GORE, LIAR, with Bradley cast as the straight-talking challenger. No one—no one—was going to say that Bradley might be blowing big smoke.

Democrats, so it went as the dysfunctional Washington press corps made a joke of your White House election. When this cohort’s tribunes tell you strange tales about how this election was won and lost, we incomparably advise you once again: Be careful. And consider the source.